PERSONAL MEMORIES, AND CONFLICTS, WITH MOF (by Ralph Gee March 2010)

The first dates exactly from 26th November, 1947 - my second day at Red Hill, to where I'd arrived with a blooming and excruciating whitlow, a self-affliction from nail-biting that stayed with me for many years. I think we got a medical check-over (M.O.T from MOF?) practically after our first breakfast - possibly to protect from law suits! On first sight of it, MOF boiled up a poultice, which she applied far, far too hot. I peeled myself off the ceiling of that little cupboard room at the end of the Dark Passage that passed as the casualty clearing station, and prepared myself into hating this woman for life. A chain smoker herself, she pre-empted that by giving me a cigarette, a Craven A cork-tipped. Being the first fag in my life, I swaggered into the Square Yard to show off, but within minutes was violently sick. I never smoked Craven A again.

My second very powerful memory is of a policy in the 1947/48 winter, that never recurred. Then the first bed bell juniors would gather round MOF's open coal in her little room off the bathroom landing, for mugs of cocoa and hear her read a bedtime story - one I remember in particular being called "On The Counterpane". This is the real image of a surrogate mother - supported every morning by a spoonful of cod liver oil and malt launched into our eager mouths in the Butler's Pantry - to get us all through that very savage winter.

Behind her most stern face was a mischievous, but often very covert, sense of humour. I think it was my first April Fool's Day when some joker, convinced of his originality, removed the clapper from the bell that hung outside the junior bathroom (the one on a pole!). It took until the traditional noon before the culprit owned up - until then our time had been organised by a squad of bellowing town-criers. It wasn't repeated the next year, because MOF got up first and covered it with very wet paint.

It must have been the next April 1st when she surpassed herself. In those days by her room was a wardrobe sized cupboard for our toothbrushes, and at which the Benchmember on Landing Duty sat sentry. Invariably on April 1st that ended up across MOF's door, blocking her in. By the time she'd got out, around about 8am, she was appalled to find that some twit had removed all the carpets from the main stairs. Telling us these were very expensive, and once belonging to Shaw's mother, there was to be no breakfast for anyone until they were found; and she had Bill Dunkerley (the then cook) lock himself inside the kitchen. We were soon ready to round up all likely culprits and hang them from the copper beech, until they confessed (we knew who they were) - but with very little time before classes, the mats were found, by MOF herself. She had got out of her room before being blocked in, and removed the mats herself - taking them back to her room, where they could never be found by our search parties, desperate for breakfast.

I was her elite tenant. Her room was directly beneath my East Attic pad; and she chose who had it because of the noise above her. There was a craze for Subbuteo table-top games, particularly football and cricket, and to be different I bought the speedway one, it worked by dropping ball-bearings of different sizes down tubes to skid the plastic-bottomed riders on to the finish - so it needed a highly polished surface to which a plastic strip was nailed, and the oval track marked off in divisions - and the dimensions were far greater than suggested in the original advert - that had said nothing of major construction required to play. My solution was a wooden cupboard with a plywood back, which I removed for my stadium, immediately attracting many boys to it, excitedly thumping on the floor. MOF soon appeared, broke up the fun and scattered us - and all seemed going well until she got to the bottom of the East Attic stairs, did an about turn and bounded back. She'd recognised the separated back of her cupboard, but wouldn't take it further, because the Pollacks having left, she was moving to the Upper Cottage - but could I join the cupboard to its back? Subbeteo speedway was a commercial flop, with me probably its only ever customer, so I wonder if a later generation worked out the reason for the curious highly polished device on the back of that cupboard.

Two things Marion told me herself. One related to the school as a reserve military hospital (I suspect for D-Day) and that some time after the war, to her utter bemusement she got an award for it - having done absolutely nothing at all except be there! The other story related to pre-war East Sutton days, when OLS took flying lessons. He showed off by flying low over the house from the north, well clear of the chimneys, but had forgotten the Big Fir - missing it by a whisker. She said she had such a row with him that nearly settled the future of the school - but after that he gave up flying.

I've discovered MOF references in Shaw's 1936 book, in which he details court activities - with a couple of cases citing MOF as charging or being charged.

This is an extract from: School discipline, OLS; 1936

CHARGE NINE:

NOTE: In this charge, the adult is the school nurse (MOF) who has been trying to stop B from using old and dirty ointment on a sore which has appeared on his face ; he had been objecting to her treatment by another method and had refused to stop smearing his face with the bad ointment. The nurse had failed in her attempt to confiscate the ointment. B = accused, C =Chairman.

Adult: I wish to charge B for refusing proper treatment for his sore. He insists upon using some filthy ointment he has had for nearly a year and which is too dirty to do him any good. He refuses to let me use my methods and might render us all liable to infection. I have argued with him, but he won't change his mind.

C (15) Well, let him have a rotten face if he likes.
W (12) But what if we all catch his sore ?
C (15) Has anyone anything to say ?
Another Adult:
Surely the nurse is supposed to do her job in keeping people well and if she neglects her job she will be criticised. Cannot she have absolute powers to do as she likes in these matters and be allowed to do as she thinks best ? I should think she'll always be guided as well as possible even if for no better reason than the upkeep of her reputation. If B. refuses her services and the community thinks that they are endangered thereby then the court should do something.
C. Well, it's no good voting her damages, but B. is obviously guilty. Damages won't alter the situation, so I rule that B. gives her his mucky ointment and accepts her treatment.
The case was left at this stage, B. agreeing to accept the treatment and to abide by the court's ruling. Next day the nurse (Adult) brought another charge.

Adult. I wish to charge B. as he will not, in spite of the charge I brought yesterday, give up that dirty ointment and he still puts it on his face.
C (15) Have you anything to say, B ?
B (14) I'm not going to give her my ointment and I won't have her treatment.
C. If you will not do what the court ordered yesterday you'll have to keep out of the house altogether so that we don't catch your sore.
W (12) But B. has contempted the court. There was that order we voted on yesterday and B. hasn't kept it.
C. And he was really let off yesterday on condition he did as we said. Will people vote whether he has committed contempt of court ?
Voting Guilty 21
Not guilty 0
C. What damages for contempt of court ?
Voting: 6d 4
3d 12
2d 5
C. I rule 3d. damages for contempt of court and, if no-one objects, I order B to give up the ointment within one hour and accept the treatment. If he doesn't do it this time there will be another contempt charge.
I'll propose then that he is not allowed in the house so that others will not get the sore.
NOTE : B did give the bad ointment to the nurse at this stage and with more suitable treatment the sore disappeared.

Copy of Minutes made for Meeting held on the 4th April 1936
Chairman HCS = Humphrey C. Swingler (Adult)
DM = Dan Minton (Adult)
LJ = L Jossett (Adult)
MOF = Marion Farrell (Adult)
UO = Ursula Otte (Adult)
Secretary CEB = Christopher E. Batterbee (Pupil, 17 years)

NOTE:
The numbers in brackets after Christian names give the age of the pupil in years. The letter A in brackets indicates that the speaker was an adult.

John (12) stated that he did not require Tony's (7) assistance in doing the play room; he was given permission to do it alone.
HCS (A) complained that Brian had been doing the boiler room unsatisfactorily and the meeting passed a motion proposed by HCS and seconded by Wendy (12) that Brian (15) must improve.
Wendy (12) was to continue doing the senior bath room but she complained that there never seemed to be any " Vim " available ; MOF (A) undertook to see that there was a sufficient supply of " Vim."
Kenneth (14) and Tom (12) were elected to be the two meal orderlies for the week.
Maureen (16) proposed and Geoffrey (18) seconded that Brian (15) should be excluded from the senior common room and after some discussion it was agreed that be should be given a week's probation and the matter was to be dealt with by a sub-committee, six days after the meeting, if his manners and behaviour in the room had not improved in that time.
Pat (13) asked that more furniture should be provided for the junior common room owing to there being not enough seats to go round and that one armchair was useless as an article of furniture. OLS (A) undertook to see that this would be done within 10 days.
Christopher (17) suggested that all over 15 years of age should do their own washing of clothes. This was opposed by MOF (A) owing to the domestic inconvenience of such a course and on a vote only Christopher supported the proposal. It was then suggested that he could do his own washing if he wished and UO (A) undertook to arrange the times for this with him.
Alvin (7) asked that the rule preventing him from going out of the grounds on his bicycle should be repealed. Geoffrey (18) proposed and Pat (13) seconded that he should be granted this permission. After some argument it was decided that he should pass a " rule of the road test " with HCS (A) before the matter was finally decided.
OLS (Psychotherapist) stated that in future all those who teased Peter (12) by calling him "piss-a-bed " would come under the 3d. fine for " psychological offences ". OLS reminded an objector that he had the dictatorial power to decide as to who should be protected in this way.
As the result of many complaints caused by the noise the Junior dormitory made before anyone else wanted to get up in the mornings and before the first rising bell, the chairman decreed that those responsible, having been charged, the penalty would automatically be that they would have to go to bed early and miss tea for a week. Tom (12) suggested that their dormitory should be locked during the day time as water they had spilled in it had come through onto the kitchen ceiling ; this was passed if it happened again. OLS (A) pointed out to the chairman that he should tell them that they could easily go out early in the mornings if they wanted to get up and play on the big field so that they did not wake other people; this was done.
DM (A) complained of the way in which a number of newts had been forced into a jam jar, about one hundred, so that many deaths occurred; the offenders, he said, were John, Kenneth and Robin (12, 14, 10). DM (A) proposed and Geoffrey (18) seconded that all wishing to fish and play with newts should obtain a licence from LJ (A). It was finally decided that this was to be done and that a licence would cost for the stamp on it.
The chairman complained that Kenneth (14) had to be continually reminded to do his job; it was talked over and he was warned.
Some discussion arose about the conduct of the courts and Christopher (17) said that many people were slow in voting and some hampered the chairman. It was decided on the proposal of Philip (15) that hands should be raised and counted rather than the former method of calling out opinions to the chairman. MOF (A) said that the court should be immediately closed if a babel arose, but OLS (A) pointed out that this was rather unfair to those who wanted to bring a charge and that unscrupulous people could easily escape being charged by creating a babel if this was passed; OLS added that the conduct of the court depended wholly on the chairman and that if he was incompetent he should be sacked.
Tom (12) was asked to clear up his paper streamers which he had left lying about the grounds.
HCS (A) announced that the academic holiday would stop next Wednesday and MOF (A) said that there were Easter eggs for everybody hidden in the garden.

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